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Serendipity in a lighted bottle

Art: Kari Hewitt finds entrepreneurial spirit is an antidote for hard times

Posted: February 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Kari Hewitt, right, poses with some of her children. From left: Andrew, 20, McKenna, 3, Emily, 17, and Sarah, 15, at front. Hewitt’s new business, Serendipity Lights, offers Lit Spirit bottles priced from $38 to $60 at OutWest as well as online. Hewitt also handcrafts custom orders. The small business has also attracted the support of neighborin...

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Kari Hewitt believes in serendipity. It’s what led her to Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of OutWest Marketing in Newhall.

Hewitt’s family had fallen on hard times and she was desperate to find a way to buy Christmas presents for her six children. It was Dec. 21 and she had 18 cents in her checking account.

She had made festive lamps out of liquor bottles as a way to raise funds for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for
Life over the last few years.

Hewitt, who lives in Valencia, thought the bottles might sell well as holiday gifts.

She considered selling them at the Saugus Swap Meet, but two weeks of rain precluded that.

“I couldn’t take bottles filled with electrical wire and lights to an outdoor venue,” Hewitt said.

She thought of selling the bottles out of her car, but figured that wasn’t entirely legal.

OutWest Marketing
A friend of Hewitt’s suggested Hewitt try calling OutWest Marketing in Newhall, which carries a wide range of items from local artists.

“I remember it vividly: We were into the last 10 days of the month, and there was this pleasant voice on the other end of the phone. Over the years, I’ve learned to be open,” Bell said.  “I told Kari I couldn’t promise her anything, but that I was a woman of faith and to come on down.”

“We were family within 20 minutes,” Hewitt said with a smile. “A host of angels ushered me to Bobbi Jean Bell.”
Bell liked what she saw and immediately placed the Lit Spirit bottles in a prominent place within her store.

“I just happened to have three shelves empty, so I said, ‘Let’s put them here,” Bell said. “I just thought they were beautiful. I loved the look and the colors. Part of our purpose is to encourage and nurture our local craftspeople.”

The next day, two regular OutWest customers came into the store and purchased three bottles.

“That was our Christmas,” Hewitt said, choking back tears.

She named her new art business Serendipity Lights.

Lighting spirits
Since that fateful day in December, Outwest has sold approximately 15 more Lit Spirit bottles, which range in price from $38 to $60. Hewitt has also had a significant increase in website orders at www.serendipitylights.webs.com, including commissions from as far away as Canada.

“Someone ordered a Captain Morgan bottle for their father’s bar,” Hewitt said of the latter. “We did a huge Jagermeister bottle, the biggest I’d ever seen, for a soldier on base in Alaska who had lost his wife.”

Inquiries are coming in from farther parts of the globe.

“A woman in Australia is trying to figure out how to adapt the plugs so she can use two of our Pulchella bottles for
nightstands,” Hewitt said.

Whatever people think up, Hewitt is happy to try to create a Lit Spirit just for them, including potentially expanding to olive oil and vinegar bottles.

“I love to do custom orders; they’re my favorite,” she said.

Lit Spirits bestsellers online and at OutWest include a Jack Daniels bottle adorned with a jaunty red bandanna that gives it a bit of cowboy swagger.

While customers gravitate toward labels, Hewitt has her own criteria in mind when creating a lamp.

“It’s the shape and what it becomes when it fills with lights,” she said. “Each is unique in its own way ... like a snowflake. There’s just something about making a piece of jewelry for a bottle and adorning it.”

It takes a village
Since she started making the bottles, Hewitt has received support from throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. Mike Miller of The Tailgate in Saugus has regularly supplied Lit Spirits with castoffs from his bar and recently, El Trocadero and Pulchella Winery in Newhall have gotten into the act.

“It really has become a community effort. It’s taken on a life of its own,” Hewitt said. Hewitt’s oldest son Andrew, 20, picks up the bottles and scrupulously cleans each one.

Her husband, Mark, uses a special drill bit to create the hole from which to insert a string of lights, such as the ones strung around homes and trees during the holidays.

The bottles are then cleaned a second time so that no shards or bits of glass remain. Hewitt’s daughters Sarah, 15, and Emily, 17, are on hand to help with the next step — decorating.

“There are lots of ways to decorate bottles,” said Sarah.

“It’s fun to help pick out decorations and pull the lights through,” said Emily.

Giving back
Sales for Lit Spirits have come at an opportune time for Hewitt.

Mark was disabled for nearly four years before recently becoming employed as an oil-pump mechanic.

The family has been without health insurance for some time, which increased the stress when Sarah was diagnosed with malignant tumors in her neck following a routine tonsillectomy in July.

Still, Hewitt intends to donate a portion of the proceeds from Lit Spirits to the American Cancer Society, as well as continue to provide bottles for raffles and auctions benefiting the cause.

“We’d like to raise as much money as we can to beat childhood cancer. My 15-year-old daughter has a neck full of tumors. We want to see cancer gone,” she said.

When asked about her goals for Lit Spirits, Hewitt became quiet, her eyes filling with tears.

“We would like not to lose our house, to be able to pay our bills and meet our obligations without needing charity,” she said finally. “Hopefully, we’ll get there. We’re a faithful family.”

For information on Lit Spirit bottles, visit www.serendipitylights.webs.com, e-mail serendipitylights@gmail.com or visit OutWest Marketing, 24265 Main St., Newhall, (661) 255-7087.

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